Learning how to overcome your empty nest may seem impossible at first. You may even dread this important transition because it seems like there couldn’t be anything scarier.
You’re not alone if you feel this way. Helping your kids on their road to independence is your life’s work.
Launching a kid — that is, getting them off your payroll — can also be one of the most rewarding accomplishments in your life.
The middle of this transition can feel messy though because your identity as a parent has been so focused and all-consuming. You’ve put your heart and soul into this role that’s filled with great challenges and great love.
Learn how to overcome empty nest syndrome.
I like to think of the empty nest phase as both your “emptying nest” (when some children leave home) as well as “empty nest” (when the last child leaves home).
It’s common to have all kinds of feelings related to this change in your life, including sadness, loss, fear, anxiety, and even grief.
Your feelings might be all over the map. It can feel bittersweet at times because you feel a mix of emotions, both positive and negative.
On the one hand, you know in your heart of hearts that your young adult children need to become independent to be successful in life. But, on the other, you’re not crazy about how all of this will affect you and who you are if you’re not a full-time mom anymore.
Dealing with empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to be scary.
If you feel scared about what your empty nest will mean to you, it’s important to recognize the actual way that you’re thinking about it.
The thing is that thoughts simply make up the narrative that you’re repeating to yourself and others about your new empty nest reality.
Your empty nest mindset is made up of a combination of actual facts about the situation and also the way you’re choosing to think about those facts.
The good news is that your thinking is optional and you have the choice to tell yourself a different story.
Yes, it takes practice, but it’s possible and you’ll soon see that you can strike a balance between thinking about what you’re afraid of and also thinking about what you’re looking forward to.
The bottom line is that you can work on your mindset and that will help you believe that an empty nest doesn’t have to be so scary.
Here are 5 steps on how to overcome empty nest fears and get excited about your life again.
1. Feel your feelings.
When you set out to become more intentional in your life, the idea isn’t just to be happy all the time. Instead, connect to your feelings and understand two main ideas.
First, what you’re experiencing is part of the path that can lead you to be more intentional about creating a more enjoyable empty nest experience. Take time to notice how you’re feeling and what specific thought is creating that feeling.
Notice the connection and remind yourself that you’re human and you love your kid — you’re just going through a transition.
Second, your thinking, which is optional, is what is creating the way you’re feeling. You can work on thinking about your empty nest differently.
Consider being open to the idea that you can be both sad and happy, fearful and brave, and excited and worried about your kid experiencing life to the fullest with this change. It’s not an “either/or” situation.
2. Notice your negative thinking.
It’s so easy to transition into an empty nest on autopilot. You just think, feel, do and say things out of habit without necessarily being intentional about what you’re thinking and then doing.
You might notice yourself thinking “I hate this” or “I don’t know who I am anymore.” It’s easy to miss awareness of empty nest thinking that doesn’t serve you.
Without awareness, you typically stay stuck, lonely, or discontent. Once you identify what you’re actually thinking, ask yourself if you like your reasons.
When you feel more in control and sure of yourself, you can overcome your empty nest fears.
3. Get intentional.
When you decide how you want to experience your empty nest, you can learn how to create it for yourself. You can decide how you want to show up in your relationship with your young adult.
You will likely need to make a few changes in the way you view your relationship, how often you call and visit, what conversations you initiate, and expectations about the amount of information that’s shared with you.
The way, you think about your kid at this age may also have to be tweaked in terms of independence, capability, and risk tolerance.
It’s time to rethink how you want to relate to your child, who is now in his or her own transition. There’s less fear when you are clear about what you want.
4. Appreciate new opportunities.
As an empty nest parent, your child isn’t the only one who has new opportunities. So do you and they can be pretty exciting.
The sky really is the limit. You likely have a little more time and flexibility than you’ve had in years. The excuses and things that made dreaming less feasible in the past can be revisited.
You can have fun saying “yes” more often and being genuinely curious about what you want, what you feel ready to prioritize, and what you’re ready to commit to.
5. Decide to love your life.
One of the best ways to overcome your empty nest is to make a decision to do so. This is an option that you may not realize you have because it’s so common to respond to your empty nest rather than create it yourself.
You have an opportunity right now to tell yourself the story that you want about your empty nest on purpose.
What do you want to think? How do you want to feel? What do you want to do?
You can create this experience and decide it will be amazing. Once you’re clear on the result you want for yourself, then you create the mindset that will support this outcome. You have more power than you think!
Your empty nest is welcoming you!
Having an empty nest is such an interesting phase of being a parent. While it can be a notable transition fraught with some challenging and sometimes difficult personal adjustments, it can also be an exciting and fun time of your life.
What if you embraced this exciting new phase instead of fearing it? What if you saw it as a time of self-discovery and personal growth?
When you’re open to the idea that your next chapter could be way more fun than you thought, the possibilities are endless!
Suzy Rosenstein, MA is a master certified life coach and host of the popular podcast for midlife women, Women in the Middle. If you’re 50+ and tired of feeling afraid of running out of time, visit her website, listen to her podcast, and download her free podcast bundle, Get Unstuck in Midlife for mindfulness strategies and tips to actually get excited about your life again!